Themes and Plugins You’ll Find in My Toolkit

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Things in your toolkit, WordPress themes and plugins.

Have you decided on WordPress for your website but have become overwhelmed by the amount of themes and plugins available?

The beauty of WordPress is the number of developers who have created themes and plugin, some free and some not. Themes are a great way to get started on the design and plugins help you add much-needed functionality especially if you're a non-designer.

But choosing the correct combination is oftentimes stressful when you're not in the trenches every day. And you need to decide if free can work or should you invest in premium.

My process, like many other designers, is streamlined with a starter stack or preferred themes and plugin that make up my toolkit. Will these be right for you? I hope so which is why I'm pulling back the curtain and showing you.

Fair warning – this article includes affiliate links which I may earn money from should you use them to purchase. But I only recommend them because I use them regularly.

responsive WordPress theme
When choosing a theme, make it responsive because that is a must.

WordPress Themes

According to Codex a theme is “a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog.” WordPress itself comes with a default theme which is free to everyone. But I've found two different options that I use with every website I build.

For my more tech-savvy and custom sites, I use the Genesis framework from StudioPress. I find these themes are easy to use and configure out of the box. Genesis provides a search-engine-optimized foundation and runs pretty fast due to its clean code.

But I love BeaverBuilder (see must use plugins) to create more owner updatable (aka you can easily update) and the Astra theme is built to be more page builder friendly. So that is my choice for sites that don't need custom bells and whistles and will be maintained by the business owner.

While Genesis is a paid theme, Astra is free for the basic theme with a premium add-on that extends design choice functionality.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are bits of software that can be uploaded to extend and expand the functionality of your WordPress site. Having plugins in my toolkit saves me time since I'm not reinventing the wheel every time I build a website.

WordPress plugin to extend functionality.
Trusted WordPress plugins can be found in the official repository

Must Use Plugins

My ultimate must-use plugin is Beaver Builder, which is a drag and drop page builder with tons of options that allow me to create layouts of all kinds. In addition to the modules for the design, they also include modules that extend functionality like opt-in forms, buttons, tabs, and video embeds. While I prefer Beaver Builder, its competitor Elementor is a wonderful option too.

On top of a great looking site, every site needs a form or forms to collect information. I prefer Gravity Forms which is a premium plugin but well worth the money. Gravity Forms also has add-ons so you can sync your forms with your email marketing program, collect payments and create a quiz or survey.

If you want to help your site in the getting found arena, you should be adding Schema, which is a markup that allows search engines to figure out what your site is all about. I've found that the makers of Astra Theme also have an easy to use schema plugin aptly names Schema Pro.

Speaking of getting found I bounce between two SEO plugins: SEOPress and RankMath. I've used Yoast too but I've found the load speed is a tad slower and they don't have the bells and whistles of the others without paying the annual fee.

I do have to say that SEO plugins don't directly improve SEO, and regardless of which plugin you use, SEO optimization plugins are a tool to make your site search engine-friendly by guiding and pointing out what is missing from the page. They don't do the work for you and as my SEO mentor Brendon Hufford says “it's like having a post-it note to remind you of what to add”.

Moving on to security, Shield it for me because they literally cover all the bases of helping you secure your site from login to comments to file monitoring. And they don't kick false positives like other security monitoring plugins.

Caching is another must-have and some hosts now include caching with their packages. But my go to is WPRocket because there is minimal configuration with immediate results. Plus for some hosts (like Flywheel) they are the only caching plugin officially supported,

And finally, Better Search and Replace is my favorite for correcting URLS like when you add SSL onto your site and need to change the permalinks form http to https. I also use Better Search and Replace to find temporary URLs that may be created when building a site on staging or development servers.

Optional Plugins

I mentioned above that Beaver Builder is my favorite page builder plugin and it's companion UABB, Ultimate Beaver Builder which has custom modules, rows and templates to help create even more beautiful and functional sites.

Google Analytics is a must for tracking because one, it's free and two, you need to know about your traffic. There are many plugins that will pull the data into your WordPress dashboard like Monster Insights or Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics. I personally don't use either and instead add the code to my theme and look at the reports online.

Social sharing is another must for bloggers who want to extend their reach on their posts. My favorite is Sassy Social Share because they don't use cookies and is GDPR compliant.

Talk about extending reach, I'm a fan of content upgrades and unintrusive pop-ups which is why I use ConvertPro for these functions on my website. It's drag-and-drop and pretty simple to use and it supports fast loading.

And finally, if images are your thing or you're obsessed with speed like I am, Imagify is the perfect solution for optimizing your images.

more tools for your digital space.
Other tools help with creating a perfect digital space.

Other Tools

As always, there are tools I recommend that don't fall into the themes and plugin category but will help you with your digital presence.

  • Email marketingMailchimp is what I use after switching from ActiveCampaign. Both are great programs but I did not need all the bells and whistle of ActiveCampaign. And if you're a DIYer or semi-techie then MailChimp would be easier to set up and use.
  • Spelling and grammar correctness are a must for your website which is why I use Grammarly to provide an extra set of eyes when creating posts and pages.
  • Email – Most use their host for setting up email accounts but what if your server goes down or (*gasp*) gets hacked? You have no way to get your email messages and that's the number one reason I use GSuite for my business email addresses.
  • Local Development – I'm going to get a little nerdy for a minute and talk about creating a website on my computer which is how I start many of my projects. I've found that Local by Flywheel is a perfect option because it's easy to use and with the click of an option sharable to my clients.

It doesn't matter what tools you use, but it's great to have a starter kit or tools of reliable options to use to create your WordPress website. Most of the above tools mentions have been in my toolbox a good while, which says a lot about sustainability.

I'm always finding new and different tools and resources which can be found on my resources page. How about you – what are some of your must have tools?

Themes and plugins to use on your WordPress website.
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5 Myths about Using WordPress For Your Website

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5 Myths About Using WordPress For Your Website

You've heard that WordPress is popular but you don't get what all the hype is about?

Some of the bigger sites like New York Observer, New York Post, TED, Thought Catalog, Williams, USA Today, CNN, Fortune.com, TIME.com, National Post, Spotify, TechCrunch, CBS Local, NBC, and more all use WordPress.

If it's good enough to power those site then it should be good enough to power yours too, right?

If you ask the pro-supporters they can give you tons of reasons why this number of WordPress powered sites is on the rise. But ask the not-so-tech-savvy folks, you'll get the complete opposite reaction.

WordPress is the choice of many because it is user-friendly once it's set up correctly and operational. WordPress allows you the functionality that you wouldn't have had access to several years ago, and you have control over your website.

I agree that WordPress is perfect for most business users, but there is always a downside to the up. 

This reminds me of when I put on my big girl pants and got my first “real” job. I had a few options, and there was one company that I wanted to work for. Not being sure of my choice, I did what I do best, go to dad for advice.

As we talked about the opportunity, I convincingly gave all the pluses. He then added the drawbacks of each item I confidently spouted. At the time, I thought it was his way of gently saying don’t take the job. 

In hindsight, I realized that he wanted to make the decision as clear-headed as possible and to know what I was getting into. Because we tend to focus on the things that allow us to reaffirm our decision and put the drawbacks on the back burner until they insert themselves into our daily lives.

I did take the job, and it was great to do so with a clear idea that it wouldn't be all peaches and cream every single day. That while the decision was ideal for that point in time if I wanted to continue to grow and change I had to have a solid foundation to start.

So instead of writing a gooey, feel good, you need to do this article I am going to give you the flipside of every plus so you too can go into this decision eyes wide open. 

the new Gutenberg editor

Reason 1: It has an active community

There is a whole slew of help out there, everything from Codex and the support forum to WordCamps in your cities. Some of the best and brightest are there to give you the help that you need.

But…there is no hand holding for you. Most will give you the snippets of code that you need or the steps to take to fix the issue, but they are not there to do it for you. Not that you need to be an expert coder but you need the confidence to add the snippet into your theme or site.

Then there's the conflicting information which can be overwhelming having several viewpoints and fixes for one question. WordPress people are the bomb and super helpful but they are also opinionated so there's that too.

The beauty is that the help is there and easy to find, the downside is that there is a lot of information and it can be overwhelming for the beginner user.

Reason 2: Easy to set-up and use

There is no need to know the code, learn various programs or have a webmaster on staff. I like to say if you can use Word (or Pages for my Mac geeks) then you can use WordPress. And now that Gutenberg has arrived with blocks it's even easier to add content and create articles.

Properly installing and setting up the core, well that’s a different story. I have lots of people call me to consult because they are stuck once they decide to use WordPress. Mostly because they want some customizing to their theme of choice or on the flip side, have too many choices to make.

Look in the WordPress repository or Google WordPress themes and you have a million or so choices. Add to that, page builders like Beaver Builder and all-in-one options and you can quickly get overwhelmed on where to start. 

And you don't want to be adding a plugin for every single piece of functionality that you need on your site or worse adding plugins because a theme requires or a guru told you to (which we'll address in a minute).

You also need to make sure that the settings are correct, like permalinks and admin email notification along with removing dummy content that WordPress itself installs tend to add. 

Getting your site set up correctly from the get-go is crucial, and I highly recommend that you have it done for you if you are a complete novice or just beginning. Believe me, when I say it will save you tons of time getting your site up and running.

The best part of WordPress is the ease of use; the downside is that setting it up takes a little know-how and planning.

Reason 3: Hundreds of plugins to add functionality to your site

Hundred is an understatement. A shitload would be more like it. There is a plugin for most anything. That saves you custom coding so that you are able to book an appointment, gather a testimonial or add a shopping cart.

But too much of a good thing can be harmful. With each plugin, there is a chance that it can “break” your site and conflict with another. Some are resource hogs that will slow your site down. Others can be poorly coded and cause problems. And some have been created five versions of WordPress ago which means while it may provide a useful function it won't play nice with your version of WordPress.

And just because there is a plugin to install doesn't mean that you should install it. Sometimes end results can be achieved with a simple line of code or some CSS to make it look the way you need it to be. 

On the flip side of that argument, you also need to be sure that you use all the necessary pieces too. Meaning that some plugins like WooCommerce and Gravity Forms have add-ons to extend the functionality. So for example Gravity forms has an add-on for Stripe and PayPal so you can easily turn your form into an e-commerce option without needing both Gravity Forms and WooCommerce.

Having a dynamic website has never been easier but adding too many bells and whistles can cause analysis paralysis for your user or worse slow your site down. Speed is a critical element of a successful website and proper setup will help keep your site sleek and speedy.

Reason 4: Search engine friendly

On top of having a great coded site and optimal plugins, it had never been easier to get some SEO juice to get found on the interweb. From pretty URLs to easy to add links, getting Google to recognize your content is something that everyone can do. 

But designing your site, adding content and then thinking you are done is a huge myth.

Search engines love fresh content, especially when it is targeted to your market and user. WordPress is the perfect CMS for SEO and building websites that rank well with the ability to modify meta titles, headings, categories, and tags.

But in order to take advantage of these features, you need basic knowledge of how to properly use heading, categories, and tags on top of having fresh content to utilize these items. 

The bottom line is that you need to keep SEO going with fresh content. You cannot expect to create a lovely site with all your information, and then let it sit and marinate. Fresh content is the key to ranking.

Google love WordPress, well almost. Google loves fresh, and relevant content and WordPress makes it easy for Google to find such content.

Reason 5: It’s cost-effective because it's free

Because it is open-source, there is no cost to get the files that make up WordPress. There are also many free themes and plugins, so you do have everything at your fingertips to get started. 

Well, almost everything. To begin you need to put everything somewhere and this is where the free ends. Hosting, while fairly inexpensive, is still a cost. Without a host, you don’t have a site. Enough said.

Then add on premium themes and plugins, free just went out the window. Not to mention the help you will need to get everything set up correctly. See where I’m going. 

To make your site appealing, you need some eye-catching images, a few professional images or you or your products, and some brand guidelines for consistency. Calling all graphic artists and branding experts. How about the copy? Words, without great copy your site will be crap. You need a targeted message, speaking to those who seek out your service without being sleazy or salesy. Send in the copywriters. Not so free anymore huh?

WordPress is a free program but investing in your business is not. The downside, you need to invest in your business and gather a team that is going to contribute to making your site work for you.

Bottom line…

WordPress is the way to go if you want an easy to use and maintainable website. You do need to know that not everything is puppy breath and unicorn farts because it takes work to keep it hip and happening.

If you want a web presence that you have control over and can easily make changes to the look and feel, WordPress is your choice. You don’t need to be afraid to take the leap or continue to be stuck and overwhelmed

Stop letting the myths of WordPress hold you back from having the site of your dreams. Is this what's holding you back?

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The Next Step For Your Live Site is Website Maintenance

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Next steps for a healthy website is website maintenance.

You've spent weeks, or maybe months to get the perfect website and then let it loose into the wilds of the interwebs. Now, what do you do? Sit back and wait for the traffic to come and the sales to generate?

Wouldn't that be nice if you could set and forget your WordPress website? The reality of having a WordPress website is it continues to need love and attention after you make it live to your audience. And there are two parts to website maintenance: health and growth.

Let's keep going as we talk about the health of your WordPress website and steps to keep your marketing asset doing the job you spent your time to perfect

The Most Basic Of Website Maintenance

You need to run the updates, make the backups and monitor the site, but there's more to maintain that those tasks.

It's like planting a garden for the first time so you can enjoy fruits and vegetables all summer long and beyond. Sowing the seeds is not enough. You need to make sure you provide water and nourishment to keep those plants from withering away to a pile of useless weeds.

Tending to the basics is the first step to giving your WordPress site the love it needs. You do need some eyes on your site to regularly check, monitor its growth and make sure that it's producing the way you are hoping.

Having an ongoing maintenance plan for your website adds another layer of security too.

Set A Schedule For Ongoing Website Maintenance

With so many other things going on, it's easy to forget to log in and run updates on your site or make sure your backup ran (and is stored in a secure location) or monitor to be sure that your site is still live.

As soon as your site launches, you need to create your post-launch plan which is essentially a website maintenance schedule.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Backup: If your host runs a complete site backup make sure you have a way to download them off the server and this task should run at least once a month (preferably more like weekly). If you regularly make structure changes, then you want to be sure the site backup was running after those changes. On top of that, you need to run database backups at least weekly but set the schedule based on how much you publish content.
  • WordPress, theme and plugin updates: WordPress feeds you updates as they make changes to functions and security, so it's useful to set a reminder to check in at least weekly for website updates. Themes and plugins are the same. However, they often make changes after WordPress version releases to combat compatibility issues. So check for all updates while you've logged in.
  • Uptime monitoring: You can easily automate this task and should be 24/7 so you know when your site goes down and for how long. If it's usually a few minutes tops, it could be a server update; but if it's longer, you'll want to find out what the problem is.
  • Speed optimization and monitoring: Nothing is worse than a slow website that your visitor needs to wait to load. By monitoring your speed and optimization, you'll combat issues before they arise and become a big patch of weeds in your garden. I recommend looking at these numbers weekly too.

Add these recurring dates to your calendar or hire someone like us to run your most basic of maintenance. Trust me when I say that the small investment is worth the time and I've had many clients pass for the first few months only to realize they can't put another thing on their plate.

Don't Forget The Time-Sensitive Updates

Hopefully, you are running promotions, offers, and other seasonal themed items on your website. And if that's the case, you not only need to get it scheduled before the event but make sure it's removed after.

Who wants to see a Christmas theme promotion on the 4th of July?

Maybe you've written a killer article to help promote a time-sensitive birthday sale. Then when the deal is over you forget to remove the “birthday” reference so when your visitors come they see you turned 50 in October 2016 and it's now September 2018.

That's ancient in internet years.

You don't want to waste good content by dating it with old promotions or offers. And you certainly don't want to remove the indexed page, so when people find the link (and they will), it leads to a 404 error page.

404 error page not found.

It's like picking the ripe items in your garden. If left on the vine (stalk or tree) they will rot and die making the plant unappealing all the way around. But pick the fruit, vegetable, flowers and more will grow and flourish giving you a bounty for a long time to come.

Schedule these times on your calendar so that you don't forget to close out the time-sensitive materials and update them to be evergreen or redirect to another page/post/product on your website.

Add-In User Experience Maintenance

User experience is where it's at on your website. If it's not friendly or cohesive, your people may leave frustrated, angry or puzzled. No sales can come from this.

Regular site reviews for usability need to be part of your continuing website maintenance plan.

Regular site reviews will allow you to see where you can improve on the user journey to get the information they need and the conversion you desire. The reviews will help you to identify places you can streamline, revise and update.

It will also help you to find missed and forgotten content like a change in hours, features, prices, etc. Reviews also give you a chance to see broken links, forms that aren't working and images that won't display.

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are your friends in this stage. By looking at your GA reports on a regular basis, you will find if people are bouncing, leaving without taking any actions or abandoning the check out cart. Search Console will also help you find the broken links and other issues that can hinder good user experience.

I like to review parts of my sites monthly, quarterly and annually with my support team to see where we can continue to improve.

Google Search Console gives you helpful information as part of your website maintenance.

Keep A Content Marketing Plan

Lots of people feel that maintenance are routine tasks to keep the site from getting hacked, but without fresh and relevant content your shiny new site can become stale and dated soon.

Think about your garden. Without new plants and other varieties, it may become not so appealing. Same goes with your content and copy. Forget to add some new stuff, and there's no reason for me to come back and visit you again and again.

Some like to create a content plan monthly, others every 90 days and even some annually. Do what works for you as far as planning and creation but try to keep updated at least monthly.

What to include in the plan? Start with a content audit. If you don't have one, get one. It may be a big undertaking at first but can save you time in the long run. Maybe you previously have created an asset you can reuse or repurpose instead of needing to develop new every time.

You also want to freshen up old and outdated content. So instead of creating another article on planting a killer garden, you can update one that exists with new techniques you've learned. After the content update, schedule with updated published date and there you have it.

Using this technique allows you to give your audience relevant information without losing any search rankings you might have had from the first publishing. It could also let you find new ways to present information like a Facebook live or video of you practicing the techniques.

By having a content plan and calendar, you'll be able to keep your site relevant easily and your content up-to-date.

Continued Website Maintenance is a Must

One thing is for sure; your WordPress website will need support. With a little planning, it's easier to hit these tasks head on or find the right support team, so you don't have to think about it.

Keep an updated record of your logins, hosting credentials, email addresses, and other items at hand so that if something happens (or your site goes down) you have everything you need to make things right.

Mostly, don't panic and be prepared.

Your website is your biggest marketing asset and a powerful tool in your business. And by using the above tips, you can keep it growing, flourishing and a stress-free piece of your online business.

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WordPress Site Speed Optimization With These Three Tips

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what are you doing to optimize your site>

Slow sites suck, and worse they drive people from your website because nobody has the patience anymore. So if you're site takes forever to load you need help with WordPress site speed optimization, this article is for you.

Before we dig in there's some pre-work to get you started. Test your site speed using a service like GTMetrix or Pingdom. A speed test will give you a starting point to improve your site.

Here are three easy (and quick) tips to help with speeding up your website.

1. Do a plugin audit

Slow sites usually have too many ineffective plugins. Notice I said ineffective. So if you have 25 plugins but ten support your WooCommerce shop you are in a different boat than someone who has ten junk or crap plugins. WordPress site speed optimization starts with a plugin audit.

Each plugin adds extra resources even if you are not actively using them. That, in turn, can decrease your site load speed. And plugins that are poorly coded or have errors in the files contribute to load time issues too.

How to tell if a plugin might cause problems? You can try PluginTests to see if there are any code errors or if it will slow your site down.

PluginTest helps with WordPress site speed optimization.

It's time to remove any inactive or unused plugins.

And it goes without saying that the next step is to make sure the others are up-to-date. Now if you've never run an update, you might want to contact your developer or use a maintenance service. And remember to back-up first.

Now you'll want to review the remaining to see if they can stay or go. A plugin should enhance the user experience or make a difference for your website.

Here is a short list of plugins you will want to keep:

  • Plugins that improve security (I recommend Shield)
  • Plugins that improve loading speed (caching falls into this category)
  • Plugins that improve user engagement (social sharing anyone)
  • Plugins that improve your conversion rate (my love Gravity Forms)

And finally, stop installing plugins because someone recommends it or it's the new flavor of the month.

2. Optimize your media

The biggest contributor to slow sites is super huge images and media files like audios and videos. We all want pictures that enhance our message and give some visual cues but the large the image the file, the more it adds to load time. And the next step in WordPress site speed optimization is giving your images and media some attention.

Best practice it to crop your image to the right size and compress before you upload your image but that does not always happen. There are tons of free tools like ShortPixel or TinyPNG to help compress your images without losing the quality.

Next, let's talk videos. Video files size is quite large. Large videos use a lot of bandwidth and resources which when loaded can cause your site to load pretty slow. Video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo make it easy to watch your videos. WordPress even has built-in shortcodes to make it easy to add videos to any post or page.

If you're using videos for banner backgrounds that need to be uploaded to your website try to limit the video to 5-10 seconds, and the video file size to 6MB or less.

ShortPixel for image optmization

3. Use a CDN

Let's talk CDN (Content Delivery Network) which is a collection of servers around the world that hold a copy of your website and when someone goes to your website it picks the closest server. Adding a CDN is the last tip for WordPress site speed optimization.

The good news is that there are some great free options and Cloudflare is my choice. And it's easy to install. In most cases, you can stick with the preset settings, but if you need more, you can tailor to your needs.

If you're not sure how to get started, contact your web host and ask for their help. Siteground which we recommend makes this part of their cPanel and you can be set up with a few clicks of the mouse.

WordPress Site Speed Optimization Recap

Now that you've made it through the three tips it's time to test your site speed again using the same service and see if any of these changes made a difference for you. Did you see a difference after…

  1. Optimizing your active (and inactive) plugins
  2. Optimizing your images and media
  3. Adding a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If not then you might want to enlist some help to get your load times as low as possible. Check out WPSpeedGuru who know website speed and has several options to help your need for speed.

WordPress speed optimization is only the beginning of keeping your site in tip-top shape. Continuing to give your site love and attention is the key to keeping it healthy and working for you. Tell me where you're stuck in getting your site to perform at its best.

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3 Critical Mistake You Could Be Making With Your Website

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critical website mistakes you could be making.

Providing technical services to my clients has given me a great look into the not-so-tech-savvy way things work. Lucky for me, technology has always come easy. I’m able to find ways to explain it to my clients, so they understand at a minimum, the basics of keeping your website up and running, which is a win for everyone!

There are three website mistakes that I see people do (or not do) that could be the difference between having a functioning site or constantly having unprepared issues.

To avoid website shutdown or the white screen of death (eek!) try these three simple things you should have in place to keep your website healthy:

1. Know Your Access Details

I’ve gotten my share of frantic calls from clients being locked out of their site because they did not set up the account and don’t have the information they need to log in. Or, worse yet, they simply didn’t understand the service, so they left it in the hands of someone else, without getting all of the details they needed at the end of the project.

So how is one supposed to be prepared and get control of your accounts?

Problem: You can't access your hosting account, domain account or WordPress dashboard because your web designer set up the accounts without sharing the details with you.

Solution: Contact your designer and ask for the account information. You can use a spreadsheet, password journal or an app like LastPass to keep the information safe for the following three key pieces.

What you’ll need:

a. Hosting Account – login information for your account and cPanel. Make a note of your IP address and name servers. Your host can help you gather this information.
b. Domain Register – login information to review your account information. Be sure that the registered domain is in your name with WhoIs.
c. WordPress Dashboard – login information. To keep things safe I create two user accounts: admin and editor. I do this, so my admin account always stays safe and non-published.

2. Have Backup Access with FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

Sometimes when your WordPress site goes down, it's because of a conflict or glitch on your particular site. But what happens when the entire WordPress site is down, and you can’t even access your account to fix things? Use FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which is a program that allows you to connect to your hosting account and files for your website.

Disclaimer: Let me say that you can do ALOT of damage if you get into your files and delete or move the wrong one. But it is important that you have the FTP information to access your account in the event of errors or white screens. Just tread carefully!

Problem: You cannot log into your WordPress dashboard because a plugin is corrupt or worse, a hacker got into your files.

Solution: Having FTP access will allow a web developer or problem solver to access your account through your hosting account back-end. FTP access allows a direct connection to the hosting files, so even if you cannot log into your WordPress site, your developer can get to the information to solve the issues. Phew!

What you’ll need:

Hosting FTP Access – create an account that is not the main FTP account. Be sure that it links to your access public folder. Your host can help you set this up. There are key parts: the FTP address (ftp.yoursite.com), the user account (this will look like an email address) and the password. Make sure you have all three parts for successful FTP Access!

3. Move Your Backup Off Your Server

Let’s start with the assumption that you are regularly backing up your website. Score one for you! The million dollar question is, are you moving your site to an off-server area like Dropbox or Amazon S3?

Backing up your files and leaving them on the server is like not backing up at all. If your files are on the server, and the server gets corrupt, or your host server goes down, you have no recourse other than to start fresh.

Problem: Your site server goes down, and you have to move your site, but your backup files are on the corrupt server, as well.

Solution: After you make your backup files, send them offsite to a cloud storage system like Dropbox. Also, you could use a service like VaultPress that will backup and send them to a secure area.

What you’ll need:

A Backup program that will send your files to a cloud area or offsite. Set up your backup program to automatically create the backup and then send it off. If you’re having someone do this service for you, be sure you have access to the where the files are sent to so you can get to the files anytime you may have an emergency.

Having control over these three areas will give you the extra protection you need to keep your site safe and functioning with no issues. If you’re having trouble gathering the information or don’t know where to start, schedule a Tech Talk with me today, and we’ll get you all set up so you can take this off your task list!

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Building Websites The Amish Way

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what the amish taught me about building websites.

Who would have thought a move to Amish country taught me some lessons abut building websites.

A little backstory first. In the last five years, I’ve moved four times. The first move was to get away from the hustle-bustle of the big city. The second, we got an offer on our acreage and 100-year-old farmhouse. The third was due to transfer that the Hubs got which moved us to our “ideal” area. Turns out our ideal city didn’t gel with our idea of our forever home.

This last move presented itself as an opportunity to once and for all move to our dream area. Not many houses come up for sale here in our price range that don’t also need tons of work. We never thought we’d find a home, let alone the perfect home. But we did.

It was in an Amish community that doesn't embrace modern technologies — not least of which includes building websites. I moved here because I’m an old soul who cherishes this Mayberry type community and the simple people who surround it.

Kinda clashes with the WordPress, technology-driven geek that I am.

Not really…I’m slowly learning how to marry the two worlds. Having the best of both parts of me working together instead of clashing is such a refreshing way to live.

The Amish are a different type of people.  They’re savvy business owners who sustain themselves and continue to thrive.

I’m fascinated by this.

Every time I visit a farm, shop or stand it gives me a chance to how they run a business.

Daniel, for example, is a furniture maker. I’m helping him build an addition onto his home for his in-laws. Not helping in the physical sense. Every time I walk into Daniel’s store, I buy another piece of furniture. (Coming soon…a beautiful oak desk and chair for my office). Enough lately to fund his expansion.

Why?

Because of the quality. Because of the one-of-a-kindness (is that even a word?). Wish I could bottle that when I'm building websites for everyone.

The Groundwork

Take the wood for example. Daniel uses only oaks and maples. Fine hardwoods. They may be a little more pricey, but you know the finished piece will hold up and last for years.

This is why I choose premium themes for building websites on WordPress. With a premium theme, you get a well-coded site that Google loves. And because there’s a team behind the design, you also get updates when new versions of WordPress come out.

The Customizing

Daniel customizes his furniture to fit the needs and desires of his customers. Everyone starts with a blueprint or plan and then he makes it work for them. Could be the color stain added, the pulls on a drawer or in my case, adjustment to the width and length.

I love to customize premium themes for my clients, too. Every business and business owner is different. Their needs are different. Their vision is different. Their processes are different.

Which is a lot like WordPress. Everyone starts with the same framework, but you choose a theme and plugins that will make your site work for you.

With so many options to choose from, it’s best to get advice from someone who stays on top of timeless resources, as well as today’s trends. Having a designer who knows the best options makes creating the site easy.

The Production

You'd think that with Daniel making all these custom pieces it would take forever to get my order delivered. That’s not the case.

Daniel embraces his version of outsourcing. He works with another craftsman to supply some of his inventory. He’s great with tables and chairs but gets china and curio cabinets from another Amish woodworker.

This reminded me of the many partners I work with to supplement my skills and available time. I partner with copywriters, graphic artists and marketers so that I don’t water down my craft.

This allows me to concentrate on pulling your site together to make it work for you and your visitors. Having the best resources at my fingertips means it won't take me months to give you the site or page you need now.

The Reason

Daniel does business the way he does because spending time with his family and on worship is important to him. He also recognizes that he's honed his skills with particular furniture types, but others would take too long to get right.

This simple relationship with my furniture builder has helped me to shape and change my business. Because of the coding and usability skills I've acquired, WordPress is my tool of choice. This doesn’t mean that I can't offer support on other technologies, but WordPress is what I’m best at and love to do.

I’ve stopped spending time providing everything to everyone and started offering WordPress production, support, and maintenance. I’m now able to do the things I love while providing the services that make me excited to get up in the morning.

How about you…need an awesome website or an update to your existing one?

If you need help with WordPress or your website, let's talk digital. Stop struggling with your site and start honing the thing that makes you a kick-ass business owner.

What is one thing you would change about your website? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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Online Payment: Shopping Carts, Gateways and Merchant Accounts, Oh My!

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Online Payment: Shopping Carts, Gateways and Merchant Accounts, Oh My!.

4 Crucial Points You Need to Understand Before Choosing  the Right Online Payment System

E-Commerce is big business. Whether you're a small solo shop with a couple of ebooks or full on with tons of products, online stores are the way to go.

No matter the size, there’s one thing all online shops need – an online payment system. And, not all are created equal.

The Hubs is not a shopper, or, at least, he wasn’t. He hates getting in the car, fighting traffic, spending all that time in crowded stores and then having to take me for a meal, after all was said and done.

Then he learned about online shopping. He thought it was just awesome to be able to sit in the comfort of our home and get everything he needs while still watching sports.

You would think. But he stops short of actually completing the purchase. Why? Because he doesn’t understand all, that's involved in making the online payment.

I was telling a client, who is also a friend, about this and how it drives me crazy that I need be his checkout girl. She, too, confessed that the reason she hasn’t added her digital books to her website was because she didn’t understand the inner workings of an online shopping cart. They totally frustrate her.

Then it dawned on me; not everyone is so jazzed about the way the online payments work. At least, not enough to wade through all the boring, snoozefest information and instructions.

So let’s break it down.

What is a Payment Gateway?

A payment gateway is the online equivalent of the cash register at your favorite brick and mortar store. It connects you, the client, their credit card provider to your bank.

Your shopping cart software sends the card numbers to your payment gateway to authorize the purchase and process the payment. If the information submitted matches the information on file, then the charge is approved, and the gateway will transfer the money into your merchant account.

What is a Merchant Account?

This is the point of the process that people get confused because a payment gateway and merchant account are not one in the same. A merchant account is the most complicated of the two. It's an area that holds your money until it's transferred to your bank account. This can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week. In most cases, the money is automatically transferred from here to your bank account.

Many of you are familiar with Authorize.net. Authorize is a merchant account that processes payments once they’re through the gateway.  Some services such as PayPal or Stripe have their own merchant account which is why they’re a little more expensive and easier to sign up. These types of services are known by the terms dedicated versus aggregate accounts.  Dedicated being just for you and aggregate is a pool of money to draw from.

What’s a Shopping Cart?

The beauty of WordPress is there are many options to add a shopping cart to your site. However, just like no two payment gateways are created equal, no two shopping carts are either. Some are easy to set up while others need lots of add-ons to make it function as you need it to.

Four Things to Look For and Understand Before You Choose:

To make the best choice for you, you need to know what to look for as far as terms, services, and fees.

Payment Types

You need to know what kinds of payments you’ll accept. Credit cards are the most popular type of payment, but there are others. Electronic checks are another option, but they do take longer to process. Then there’s gift cards. There are two choices there too: store-specific and those issued by a major player credit companies.

And let’s not forget PayPal, a popular (and recognized) choice of many.

Transaction Fees

There are no free options, so it is important that you know about the fee structure. Some gateways will keep a small percentage of the sale while others will be a flat fee. Sometimes it’s both. It’s best to start with anticipated sales and compare fees based on that number.

Be sure that you check to see if there are any additional fees such as set-up or monthly subscription fees. And watch out for additional gateway costs.

Hosted Accounts

Several gateways will take you to their own server to complete the cart process. This means that the customer is taken to a page on their site and uses their form to checkout. Then they are redirected to a confirmation or thank you page.

Because of PCI compliance rules, hosted payments are popular since the host is responsible for maintaining and keeping your customers’ information safe. Without a hosted site, you’d need at the very least an SSL certificate and dedicated hosting that will add fees starting at $10 per month to your website hosting costs.

Several hosted gateways now allow you to “slurp” your site — which is a fancy way to say mimic the look so that customers don’t get confused when being sent away from your site to the host for payment.

Shopping Cart Integration

When choosing a gateway be sure to check that it can be easily added or integrated with your cart of choice.

The popular options such as PayPal or Stripe are included in many of today’s WordPress shopping cart plugins. Stand alones such as 1ShoppingCart or 2CheckOut are not. You don’t want to be stuck paying additional fees for a plug-in you can’t make work or pay a programmer to customize your cart.

The Final Stop

Having worked with many e-commerce stores, most don’t need their own dedicated merchant account It’s simply not worth the length of time and trouble to get everything approved and set-up. Unless you’re consistently doing high volumes of sales each month (e.g., > $5,000), an aggregate service like Paypal or Stripe will be just fine.

My suggestion for credit card processing is Stripe. There is no monthly fee with Stripe and like PayPal, they have a fee structure of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

With an easy online application, you can be up and running in about 15 minutes.

While some are not keen on PayPal, it is a great second option. Most shoppers are familiar with it and for those doing international transactions, it takes the guess work out of the currency conversion process.

Do you have an online store for your products and services? Got a question? Let’s start a discussion about what works, or doesn’t work for you.

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